5th Kentucky Voluntary Infantry (Original)

Brief History

by

Faron Sparkman

 

The original 5th Kentucky Infantry was also known as the Army of Eastern Kentucky and under the command Brigadier-General Humphrey Marshall and Colonel John Williams. Marshall was born in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1812. His prior military experience began with a stint in the U.S. Army. He resigned that position and became a prominent Kentucky lawyer. With the advent of the Mexican War he rose to the rank of Colonel and led a charge at Buena Vista.

The 5thKentucky Infantry began recruiting companies at Hager Hill in Johnson County in September 1861 and was organized in Floyd County on October 21, 1861 at the home of Andrew Jackson May in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, but for much of their time they were based in Southwest Virginia. John S. Williams, a native of Winchester, Kentucky, was equally important in the command of the regiment, and was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General. Colonel Andrew Jackson May - then living in Morgan County - and Lt. Colonel Hiram Hawkins of Bath County were also important decision-makers within the new regiment. One of their earliest encounters with Union forces was at the Battle of Ivy Mountain fought in 1861 near the Floyd and Pike County lines. The 5th Kentucky ran short of ammunition at Prestonsburg and fell back to Pikeville to replenish their supply. A Union detachment from Louisa was sent out in an attempt to "turn or cut the Rebels off." Williams prepared for evacuation, hoping for time to reach Virginia, and sent out a force of Confederates to meet Nelson about eight miles from Pikeville. The Rebels escaped, and Nelson continued on his way. Williams then met Nelson at a point northeast of Pikeville between Ivy Mountain and Ivy Creek along the river. Waiting by a narrow bend in the road, the Rebels surprised the Yankees by firing upon their constricted ranks. A fight ensued and as the shooting concluded, men from the 5th felled trees across the road and burned bridges to slow Nelson' s pursuing force. Night approached and rain began which, along with the obstructions, convinced Nelson's men to go into camp. In the meantime the 5th Kentucky returned to Virginia.

During a bitter winter on January 10, 1862 the 5th Kentucky combined with other forces to form a brigade and engaged a Union brigade under the command of then Colonel James A. Garfield just out of Prestonsburg, Kentucky in Floyd County. This engagement, known as the Battle of Middle Creek, saw the largest number of combined forces to fight in any battle in Eastern Kentucky. Marshall led the 5th into the region for recruiting activities. From his headquarters in Paintsville, on the Big Sandy River, Marshall recruited volunteers and had a force of more than 2,000 men by early January, but could only partially equip them. Colonel James Garfield was directed to force Marshall to retreat back into Virginia. Leaving Louisa, Garfield took command of the 18th Brigade and began his march south on Paintsville. He compelled the Confederates to abandon Paintsville and retreat to the vicinity of Prestonsburg. Garfield slowly headed south, but swampy areas and numerous streams slowed his movements, and he arrived in the vicinity of the 5th Kentucky by January 9th. Heading out at 4:00 am on January 10, Garfield marched a mile south to the mouth of Middle Creek, fought off some Rebel cavalry and turned west to attack Marshall. Marshall had put his men in line of battle west and south of the creek near its forks. Garfield attacked shortly after noon, and the fighting continued almost until night when Union reinforcements arrived. Less than 100 were killed total. Marshall and the 5th Kentucky chose to retire to the south and were ordered back to Virginia on January 24th. Garfield's force moved to Prestonsburg after the fight and then retired to Paintsville. Union forces felt they had halted the Confederate Army's offensive in Kentucky. In actuality the 5th Kentucky, and to an even larger extent the regiments formed later including Caudill's 13th and Diamond's 10th, were very much on the offensive in Kentucky for the duration of the war. All these regiments were comprised largely of men from Eastern Kentucky and all utilized towns in Eastern Kentucky as their base of operation including Whitesburg and Prestonsburg.

The 5th Kentucky maintained a large camp in the area of Pound Gap on the Kentucky-Virginia border. Because of it's strategic importance as being a major thoroughfare in and out of Kentucky there was often fighting at this location. One major firefight took place in March of 1862.

In May of 1862 the 5th Kentucky was involved in heavy fighting at the Battle of Princeton, then in Virginia - now West Virginia. General Marshall's Army of Eastern Kentucky arrived from Abingdon, Virginia to boldly seize an opportunity. Marshall bested two Union brigades under Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox, with superior firepower during three days of constant fighting from May 15-17, centering on the town of Princeton. Breaking contact with the Confederates on the night of the 17-18, Cox retreated his large Union forces as final proof of the Confederate victory.

On October 20, 1862 General Humphrey Marshall elected to disband the original 5th Kentucky Infantry in a field near Hazel Green. The regiment was reorganized but the men were allowed any of the three choices. After a year of hard and bitter marching and fighting they could be honorably discharged and allowed to return home, they could remain with a newly reorganized or consolidated 5th Kentucky Infantry with the promise of more adventures outside the state of Kentucky, or they could continue the fight by joining one of several new cavalry regiments being formed in Eastern Kentucky. This incident near Hazel Green signified the high water mark of Confederate control in Eastern Kentucky after the disbandment and reorganization of the 5th near Hazel Green in Wolfe County on October 20, 1862